While pondering potential subjects for this week, I couldn’t help noticing that this is the 52nd edition of the column that I’ve authored. That’s a full year of weekly nerdery by my count, and it all began on July 23, 2013, with a roundup of the biggest hits, misses and lingering questions from the that year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
With this year’s convention kicking off in just a few days, it seems appropriate to bring the column back around to where it all began, and devote this week’s installment to the massive, multi-headed, all-devouring beast known as Comic-Con International. After all, with more than 130,000 people expected to attend this year’s event, and every major movie studio, television network, game developer and publisher scrambling to generate buzz that can make or break a project, Comic-Con has become the annual epicenter of geekery that has made columns like this possible.
It’s worth noting that I’ve only been covering the show professionally for a dozen years or so, but in that time it has hosted more than a few moments that — in my mind, at least — will always be associated with the wild, wonderful and often very, very weird Comic-Con experience.
Here are five of the most memorable moments from the last decade of Comic-Con history that have helped to shape the show into what it is today:
Hall H, Welcome to Sparta (2006)
Hall H was still a relatively new fixture at Comic-Con when Zack Snyder, Frank Miller and the cast of 300 nearly blew the doors off the room with a preview of the swords-and-sandals adventure that turned a movie with moderate buzz into one of the most talked-about projects at the event (putting it on par with the debut of Venom in the Spider-Man 3 footage that debuted that same weekend). Audience reaction to the footage was so positive – and loud – that Snyder ended up showing it two more times before the panel ended, with raucous applause following each screening.
It’s the sort of experience that studios have been trying to replicate in just about every panel that’s ever occurred in Hall H since that time, and it is often cited as one of the earliest examples of a film turning a big day at Comic-Con into big returns at the box office.
I Am Iron Man (2007)
I remember being in the Comic-Con press room when Paramount surprised attendees at one of its early panels with an appearance by Iron Man director Jon Favreau and the first footage from the film that would kick off Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe. You could see the news – and reaction to the footage, thanks to a fellow editor with a pal at Paramount – ripple through the room and command the attention of everyone present, no matter what stories they were working on. Basically, the entire news cycle stopped for this.
And in that moment, Iron Man went from a movie that seemed like it might be just okay to a movie that just might be the coolest comic book movie ever made. Naturally, the weekend panel devoted to Iron Man became one of the convention’s hottest events, and led to Marvel Studios’ longstanding hold on the convention’s grand finale movie panel Saturday evening. In the end, this was what first got fans thinking that maybe, just maybe, Marvel might be on to something with this whole “cinematic universe” thing.
The Dark Knight Goes Viral (2007)
Most “viral” marketing tends to be anything but viral these days, but back in 2007 the marketing team for The Dark Knight turned the entire city of San Diego into one big playground for a truly impressive – and legitimately viral – promotion for the follow-up to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
This wildly complicated “Why So Serious?” campaign involved multiple, mysterious websites directing fans to various real-world locations and phone numbers with recorded messages that played into the narrative, as well as thousands of “Jokerized” dollar bills that were scattered around the convention center with additional clues. The campaign even enlisted the services of a sky-writing plane, which flew over San Diego at a designated time, and an army of participants who agreed to have their faces painted like Heath Ledger’s Joker in order to unlock the mystery.
In the end, the participants were treated to one of the very first teasers for the sequel, as well as various real-world items like masks and The Dark Knight memorabilia. One participant was even selected to play a role in the campaign, with the lucky fan publicly “abducted” by Gotham mobsters, only to have his photo appear in a news story that later appeared on whysoserious.com reporting on the death of one of Joker’s henchmen. (You can watch the “abduction” event play out in the video below.)
Basically, The Dark Knight made the entirety of 2007’s Comic-Con into one of the greatest alternate-reality games ever played, and that only added to the legacy of Ledger’s version of the Joker.
In Brightest Day… (2010)
Say what you will about the live-action Green Lantern movie, but in the run-up to the film’s release, a brief exchange during the previous year’s Comic-Con offered a great reminder of the importance of nurturing the youngest superhero fans. After months of ducking requests to have him recite the Green Lantern oath ahead of the film’s arrival in theaters in 2011, Ryan Reynolds finally relented when he was confronted by a child dressed head to toe in Green Lantern gear during the Warner Bros. movie panel.
Braving the massive crowd and the cameras trained on him when he approached the microphone during the panel’s Q&A session, the kid made the simple request of Reynolds, who immediately realized he had no choice but to utter the words everyone had been hounding him to say since he agreed to play Hal Jordan in the film. And from the moment he spoke the words “In brightest day, in blackest night…” you could hear a pin drop in Hall H.
When he finished reciting the oath, Reynolds and the young fan both showed off their rings, adding a touching footnote to the moment.
Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (2010)
Marvel Studios was already several films deep into its cinematic universe when the 2010 Comic-Con kicked off, but there was still a healthy amount of skepticism that all of the seemingly disparate elements could successfully occupy the same screen in The Avengers. That all changed when the entire cast of the superhero team-up film took the stage during Marvel’s day-ending movie panel, gathering together arm in arm to prove to the doubters that not only can the studio bring them all together, but they can appear to have the sort of friendly – almost familial – chemistry that such a massive project will require for it to be successful.
The now-famous lineup included Robert Downey, Jr., Clark Gregg, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Samuel Jackson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo and god-among-geeks Joss Whedon, all legitimate stars in their own right, and for many in attendance that moment offered proof-positive that Marvel was capable of doing the impossible: put the needs of a team of beloved, fictional superheroes above the individual egos of the actors who played them. Even for the most hardened veterans of San Diego Comic-Con, the time the Avengers assembled on stage for the very first time is widely regarded as one of the most memorable moments in the show’s long history.
Question of the Week: What’s your favorite Comic-Con memory?
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, Newsarama, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He’s been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and his personal blog can be found at MindPollution.org. You can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.
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